Around the Island

Orange pine trees? A mystery of nature solved

JULIE LANE PHOTO | Orange pine trees along South Ferry Road are a result of Hurricane Sandy and some may not survive.

For those who have thought some Island trees have kept their glorious golden foliage long into winter, you haven’t been looking close enough.

Those bright orange trees are evergreens, which means they should be, well, green. Many of the bright dayglow pines blazing around the Island are, in fact, in their death throes.

While much of the devastation visited on Shelter Island by Hurricane Sandy has been repaired or replaced, a number of the pines— mostly white pines, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension  scientist Dan Gilrein — have developed an orange color that threatens their futures. A wide swath of affected trees can be seen on the north side of Smith Street, while a more dramatic deepening of the orange color appears on trees on South Ferry Road heading north from the ferry slips.

It’s salt damage, Mr. Gilrein said. Almost all white pines and their close relatives throughout Long Island and parts of coastal Connecticut have had their needles turn popsickle orange after being drenched in salt water during the hurricane.

Had there been significant rains after Sandy, there wouldn’t be much of a problem because the salt would have been cleansed from the pine needles, Mr. Gilrein said. But it has been a relatively dry period, allowing the poisonous sodium to do its damage, he said. Some arborvitae and other conifers also may have been affected, but not as dramatically. And because Sandy occurred at the end of October, broad leaf trees had already given up their foliage, saving them from similar damage, the Cornell scientist said.

“I’ve noticed it everywhere,” said Tim Purtell, president of Shelter Island Friends of Trees. He, like Mr. Gilrein, is hoping the damage has affected just the needles and not the tree roots, Mr.Purtell said.

What’s the prognosis for the affected trees? If treated gently, and watered, but not over-watered, some are likely to recover, Mr. Gilrein said.

Their future is partly up to spring weather ahead. If it’s very dry, many of the damaged trees could perish. But if it’s a damp spring, their recovery chances are enhanced, Mr. Gilrein said.

“It’s sad because white pines are so beautiful,” he added.